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European Scene: May-June-2010

Document L: It could have been worse


June 11, 2010
By John Roper

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Well, it is here: the new building regulations document relating to the insulation of buildings. Document L for short.

Well, it is here: the new building regulations document relating to the insulation of buildings. Document L for short.

Last time, I wrote about the disaster that was about to strike the industry when document L was published. Well I’m glad to say that it hasn’t happened. At the last minute there was a realization that allowing just one organization – the British Fenestration Rating Council – to be the only sanction for compliance would create a potentially illegal monopoly. So, when the new regulations come into force on Oct. 1, while an energy rating of ‘C’ or above will be required, there is an alternative U-value of 1.6W/m2.K that also complies. Moreover, and this is even more important, the document does not specify the source of the energy rating.

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I would like to take the credit for the change; I have been running a campaign in my magazine since last September. But that wasn’t really what did it. The real heroes are the few technical managers and, in particular, the guys at CERTASS – which is a competent persons scheme for window installers – who spotted the monopoly and convinced the government department responsible that it wasn’t the right way to go.

Not only does this create an alternative to a rating, it also leaves the way open for other organizations to rate windows for energy performance. Including, of course the new division of CERTASS: The Thermal Rating Register.

As much as I have been getting steamed up about this, the importance for the U.K. window industry is hard to overstate. And for some of us it was a real nail biter.

Happily, I managed to get a source “close to” the relevant government department, so for the last two months I have been pretty sure of the outcome. But had the document gone ahead as previously proposed, the industry potentially would have been controlled by a single private company. While the company might have exercised restraint, that would have been up to them. In theory, that company could have charged what it liked for rating windows and pretty much dictated who could or couldn’t trade.

And yet, nobody – beyond the half a dozen people who fought against the proposal, and actually fought to have the scope broadened to prevent the monopoly going ahead – seems to get the point.
The industry is good at marketing itself. It will take any regulation, any standard and turn it into a sales tool. Years ago, when the British Standards Institution brought out the first standard for windows, companies would claim they “manufactured to BSXXXX.” Never mind paying the money to actually be tested and get the standard for themselves. That kind of thing went on for years.

For the past year, they have been busy getting energy ratings for their windows without giving thought to who the registration body is or that they had no alternative source. At the moment, anything that can be given an “eco” tag is good for business and there has been a scramble not just for C ratings but for B and A as well.

After 13 years of a Labour government here in the U.K., we have become used to being nannied, directed, restricted and spied on. The U.K. ranks third in the world behind Russia and China for surveillance of its population. As a result, it seems, we go along uncomplainingly and don’t question anything when presented with an official sounding organization that says they know best.

Anyway, as I said, it is all over. The window industry can carry on as usual and those of us who have been holding our breath can breathe a sigh of relief on its behalf.


John Roper is the editor for The Installer, The Fabricator, The Conservatory Installer and Glass Works magazine published in the U.K.


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